Baby on board badge

Should Transport for London introduce a badge for those less able to stand?

Guest post from Alice Ravenscroft.

Most Londoners would likely agree that commuting in the rush hour is not a particularly enjoyable experience. But what is it like for those with disabilities that are not easily visible? In 2005, TfL introduced the “Baby on Board” badge for pregnant women to signal to other passengers their greater need for a seat. Should a similar badge be introduced for those who are less able to stand?

As a result of a serious injury a few years ago, it is difficult for me to walk or stand for longer than 20 minutes at a time, but this is not immediately visibly obvious. I began commuting into London for work in 2012 and on a daily basis I feel the need for a way of signalling the problem to fellow passengers and find it a hassle to have to ask passengers for a seat every day. In my experience people much prefer to give up their seat voluntarily rather than being asked.

The possibility of not getting a seat or of someone knocking into me has certainly been a barrier to my independence and employment opportunities in the past and I have heard similar stories from other people with invisible disabilities and injuries. A report was commissioned by TfL in 2010, which assessed over 250 peak hour commutes on London public transport undertaken by disabled passengers. One of its key recommendations was that “TfL should run poster campaigns to raise awareness of disabled commuters (who may not always be obviously disabled) amongst other commuters”.

In 2005 TfL conducted research into the issue of pregnant women getting seats on the tube and found that:

  • 92% thought that people sitting down should offer the seat to a pregnant woman without having to be asked;
  • 85% think pregnant women should ask for a seat if she needs one;
  • 78% of currently pregnant women stated that they never ask for a seat when they need one.

Is it possible that giving passengers with hidden disabilities the option of wearing a badge would improve their commute and thus their quality of life and employment opportunities? There are two potential challenges I can think of. The first is that people might try to cheat the system, however I think that ensuring that badges are only distributed by medical professionals would reduce the likelihood of this. In addition, it is not the same as the Blue Badge for parking, in that it involves face-to-face interaction with other people, which I imagine would deter most people from wearing a badge under false pretenses.

A second potential obstacle is that people with disabilities might feel embarrassed or not want to be marked out. I would suggest that using a non-precise phrase on the badge like “less able to stand” rather than the word “disabled” would help considerably with this. Of course, a survey should be done to gather the opinions of people with disabilities themselves.

I myself would happily wear a “less able to stand” badge to make the commute a little easier. I would also like to see London become more inclusive and accessible to those with disabilities.

What do you think? If you would like TfL to consider this idea, please Tweet @TfLOfficial and comment below.

Disabled commuters’ journey experiences (PDF)

(photo credit: Acme on Flickr)

6 thoughts on “Should Transport for London introduce a badge for those less able to stand?”

  1. I suffer with arthritis in my neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, feet and hands, I also have scoliosis in my back, both are ‘invisible’ diseases which it makes it difficult to stand or walk for long periods of time, I have a blue badge, but I can’t use that on public transport! Having a badge is a great idea, but what they need are conductors back on buses to enforce the idea! Because some people these days are just plain ignorant and sit there looking away pretending they didn’t notice my stick, yeah I might only be 46 and therefore not old, but it doesn’t mean I don’t need a seat, the stick isn’t there for fun!!

  2. I’ve seen frail, elderly people using crutches left standing while the seats are hogged by young people, many of whom (obviously not necessarily all) are presumably fit enough to stand. On occasion I’ve been offered a seat and a young, apparently fit person has pushed in and grabbed the seat offered to me. What difference would a badge make? Badges being issued by medical professinals smacks of ‘medical model’ not ‘social model’.

    1. Hi Janet

      I’m the article author, thanks for your comment. I’ve experienced commuting with and without crutches, which give other passengers a visible sign that I need a seat. This is the difference that visible sign made:
      -with crutches, the vast majority of passengers are quick to offer me a seat (bar very occasional exceptions)
      -without crutches, people treat me with suspicion and resentment if I ask for a seat. It’s exactly the same suspicion and resentment present in your post directed at young people who don’t look disabled.

      I’d hope that the badge would provide a visible sign, which would help people who have disabilities (but don’t look disabled) to avoid resentment and have an easier commute. I’d be interested to hear what you mean by a ‘medical model’ and why you think it would be a bad thing?

  3. There used to be signs on public transport: “Courtesy makes the journey more pleasant. Please give up your seat to the elderly or less able at busy times.” It’s a sorry state when the elderly, disabled and pregnant have to ask for something which is often visible and should be self-evident.

  4. I wouldn’t want to wear a badge advertising I have a disability! For women to advertise they are pregnant is a positive condition that society throws baby showers for in excitement, whereas disability continues to have a social stigma attached to it, and it always will. I was challenged at a concert once when I asked for directions to the disabled area…..the girl peered over her counter to look at my legs and asked ‘where’s your wheelchair?’ Obviously, arrogantly she thought that the definition of disabled was ‘wheelchair user’ because when we see international symbols, that’s how it is represented. I’m not eligible for a blue badge because my disability, in the eyes of the medical world and council is not stopping me from walking, however, my condition is such that I cannot stand for long, so I avoid public transport at all cost! That’s where the medical model referred to before is in play……this person has a medical problem (‘problem’ can be disguised as ‘condition’) that we can draw your attention to with a sign/badge…… whereas people with disabilities generally don’t want to make a song and dance about it – they simply want ease of accessibility without having to beg, borrow or put up with the lesser option……SCOPE explains the models better! In short – leave seats for the disabled empty so no one has to ask for it…….like parking spaces. If the bus or train is full statistic show a percentage are likely to need that seat – I’m sure!

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